Friday, November 22, 2013

Should Bo Pelini Be Fired?

This isn't a prediction. Nobody knows what Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst is thinking other than Eichorst and probably chancellor Harvey Perlman. Anybody who says they know what Eichorst is planning is probably either (a) guessing or (b) listening to somebody who is guessing.

These are just my opinions on the matter. I don't have any way of knowing whether Eichorst would agree or disagree with them.  He might even have completely different criteria than I'm using.

Two items that probably aren't particularly relevant is how Nebraska performs in the next two games. Sure, a 9-3 record makes it a little difficult to fire Bo Pelini, but Steve Pederson proved that isn't a major obstacle. Likewise, a 7-5 record makes it a little difficult to retain him, but the injuries could be a plausible explanation.

In my mind, any evaluation of Bo Pelini has to be based on Pelini's entire record, but more importantly, where Pelini would take Nebraska football.  Some people characterize Nebraska football as stagnant under Pelini, with four losses each and every year.  I don't see it quite the same.  We've seen seasons with good defense.  We've seen seasons with great defense.  We've seen seasons with awful defense.  And the same thing can be said about the offense.  In the end, it's always averaged out to the same results: 9-4 or 10-4.

Some call it "Bo-gatory".  I'm not sure why people view it so negatively; certainly the Bill Callahan era should give fans reason to appreciate nine wins a season.  That doesn't mean that we should be ecstatic over nine win seasons. We should want more... in fact, we should ask for more.

Many fans want Pelini dismissed because he's failed to get to eleven wins.  "Holding him responsible" is essentially a demand for punishment for failing to meet our goals.

I don't care about punishment. Firing Pelini doesn't make the blowout losses better.

What I care about is the future, and I think good things are in the future.  I believe the defense has turned the corner, and I think there are positives to look at on offense.  Some will accuse me of looking at the situation with Husker rose-colored glasses, so let me explain further.

One of the frequent complaints about Pelini is his recruiting.  Did he make some mistakes in recruiting his first few seasons? Absolutely. Just look at the defensive line recruits. But Pelini made changes in his approach.  Dismissed Ted Gilmore as recruiting coordinator after the 2010 season. He brought in consultants from outside football to evaluate his staff's interviewing and evaluation process. Has it made an effect? Look at the young talent on the defensive line. And for the folks that dig recruiting rankings, note that Nebraska's average star ratings for the 2011 and 2012 classes were higher than anything that Bill Callahan accomplished.

That young talent is why I'm optimistic. Nine freshman on the two deep on the front seven, and they've started to play really well over the last month.  And they'll undoubtedly get better.  Already people are talking about Randy Gregory with Suh-like references.  That's a high standard, and he may not turn out THAT good, but he's got two more seasons of eligibility. 

A lot of people over-simplify Pelini's defense as being good with Callahan's players, but not with his own.  If those critics equate Ndamukong Suh with Callahan players, I suppose.  Sure, Callahan recruited Suh as well as Prince Amukamara and Eric Hagg...but Pelini recruited Alfonzo Dennard, Dejon Gomes, and Lavonte David.

Does Pelini need to change some things? Most definitely, starting with special teams. I don't think Pelini needs to even be told that he needs to do something different. The numbers are pretty glaring. Maybe it's time to lighten the load on linebackers coach/special teams coordinator/recruiting coordinator Ross Els.  Hand the special teams responsibilities to somebody else, at the very least.

I don't believe Pelini to be resistant to change.  He's changed offensive coordinators.  He's changed recruiting coordinators.  When Cory Raymond wasn't working out as secondary coach, he changed that too.  (And for those that think Pelini didn't have his hand in that change, note that Terry Joseph was in Lincoln to fill the opening within a week.)  That being said, Pelini makes changes his way.

There are a lot of youngsters playing this season. On defense, it was because of past recruiting mistakes that now look like they've been corrected.  That seems to be bouncing back nicely.  On offense, it's because of injuries. To think that Nebraska almost won the Big Ten's west division despite losing an all-Big Ten quarterback and an all-American offensive lineman to season ending injuries, as well as several other linemen and skill players over the last month gives you reason to pause.

That youth movement this season gives me a lot of optimism for the next couple of years.  I don't buy that Nebraska is going to be stuck with four losses each season under Pelini, much like I didn't buy that Nebraska was always going to lose to Oklahoma or lose the bowl game under Tom Osborne.  In some respects, the start of the Pelini era at Nebraska has resembled a bit of whack-a-mole. Fix the defense, and the offense stagnates.  Fix the offense, and suddenly the defense tanks.  Now the defense is fixed, but can the offense just become consistent enough to get out of it's own way?  I consider it like a weekend golfer who hasn't put it all together.  When he's driving the ball well, his short game goes to pot.  He figures out the short game, and suddenly he's driving it in the trees.  Can he eventually put both of them together?

My money is on yes. I think Nebraska can easily do worse than Pelini.  Can Nebraska do better than Pelini? Maybe, but it's not as easy as it might seem.  Dan Hawkins looked like a home run hire going from Boise State to Colorado.  Bill Callahan looked pretty good coming to Nebraska just one year after taking Al Davis' franchise to a Super Bowl.  Fear of failing with a new coach shouldn't necessarily stop Nebraska from changing coaches, but it should force Shawn Eichorst to think long and hard before making a change.

Deep down, I do believe it's much more likely that if Pelini and Nebraska separate after this season, it works out better for Pelini down the road than Nebraska.


Patrick said...

"Some will accuse me of looking at the situation with Husker rose-colored glasses, so let me explain further."

It could just be me, but I don't think you're a "kool-aid drinker" or "sunshine pumper". If you were, I doubt you'd have this "Blasphemy" blog. You call it like you see it. If it's good, you'll say so. If there are problems, you'll say so.

Personally, I like who Bo is and unless he loses this team (highly doubtful, players love him), I can't see him being gone after this year. a fan and donor, I want to see progress in the W-L columns.


jeff725 said...

My hunch is if Pelini is going to be fired, it's going to be more Harvey Perlman's call than Eichorst's. Remember, Bo and Harvey are not on good terms.

Supposedly, it was Perlman who pulled the trigger on Frank Solich, with Steve Pederson playing the roll of willing accomplice (and convenient fall-guy when it blew up in Harvey's face). Question: is Harvey going to try to turn the trick twice?